A decorated row house on 23rd Avenue in Bensonhurst
I’ve written about my new neighborhood before. I’m not sure if I should even be calling it “new”. Bensonhurst, especially the northeastern part of the area I reside in, should have been old news to me. Growing up in Marine Park, I would often come here to visit relatives. Hanging out with the kids on the block, going down to Dahill Road or the west side of Kings Highway was my escape from weekends with the relatives. I remember seeing Run DMC, Mad Lion and Wu Tang Clan perform at the former Cotillion Terrace wedding hall on 18th Avenue. I recall high school shopping trips to the flea market in Caesar’s Bay and to 86th Street. I remember seeing confrontations all around me: graffiti beefs, tales of Halloween egg fights in the Marlboro Projects, once confronting a group of armed, drug addicted Goth girls in the basement of a two family house (long story).
Things are different now. I’m (supposedly) an adult. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for six months and everything seems new and fresh to me; gone are the homogeneous row upon row of Italian flags. Don’t get me wrong, you can still hear the Southern Italian dialect of my ancestors being spoken. Bensonhurst has retained much of its old flavor, but it’s diversity can be surprising for someone like me. Somebody seeing it with new eyes, someone who thought they already knew it. It wasn’t something I had expected.
Back in June of 2010 I could hear the theme song from Welcome Back Kotter playing in my head as I packed my things, getting ready to move out of the apartment in Park Slope where I had lived for the past 3 years.
Park Slope: Overrated and over-priced
While I had been living there, the brownstone belt had lost much of its racial and economic diversity, its pluck and creativity, taking with them the jena se qua that had originally drawn me to it. I could no longer afford my rent, my new neighbors were getting younger and more vanilla; I found myself identifying more with 70-year-old retirees than with people my own age. I had-ta get outta theah!
After visiting the area immediately west of McDonald Avenue and south of Borough Park, I felt foolish for living where I had been. I remember walking down the block I live now for the first time and seeing Chinese, Arab, Italian, Russian and Hispanic children playing wiffle ball in the street, hearing their voices bellow robust Brooklynese.
Bensonhurst Art Deco building next to shingled one family with carriage house in back
When I walk around the blocks near my apartment, I see Art Deco apartment buildings sharing space with Dutch Colonials, Tudors next door to Mediterranean row houses, Mexican workers living next door to Albanian couples, Puerto Rican and American flags sharing the same poles with Yankee pennants; shrines of the Virgin Mary next to synagogues, et cetera, et cetera.
I couldn’t believe that the Brooklyn I was looking for was right under my nose; it was right there when I was buying a suit at Garage Clothing on Stillwell Avenue or picking up a Sicilian pie at L & B.
The funny thing is, I’m less than ten minutes by subway from where I used to live. Eight and a half minutes further from my Midtown job for half the rent? Fuhgeddaboudit! This was a virtual no-brainer.
Recently Brian Hedden the editor of BK Southie asked me to write a couple of articles a week about Bensonhurst. I jumped at the chance.
I’ll try to bring you news of what people in Bensonhurst are doing, reviews of the restaurants they eat in and photojournal posts documenting street scenes and architecture: commercial spaces where the business of the neighborhood is conducted and the homes in which its residents live.
There’s so much to cover image-wise I’ve decided to follow a battle plan. The photos in this post were taken in just one small section of the neighborhood, roughly the area around Bay Parkway and 65th street. I’ve decide to start with the blocks immediately surrounding where I live and work my way south and west.
Synagogue on 63rd Street
I’d love to hear feedback about what I’m covering and ideas about what I should cover. Feel free to comment or write to the editor about it. Attempting to thoroughly document a neighborhood is an ambitious project. It’s something that I’ve never done before and I’d like to hear about how I’m doing; both what you think is right and what’s wrong.
If you’re active at a local house of worship, attend community board meetings, work at a food pantry, tutor at a local high school or pick up litter on your block, I’d like to write about it. The story of any place is ultimately a story about the people who live there. Please help BK Southie tell your story to the world.
If you’re new here like I am, welcome to the neighborhood. I’ll see you around.
- Arturo Tedesco November 8, 2010